Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Matt's Halloween Mixtape; Part Two

Behind all of the fun and games associated with Halloween lies a very dark and mysterious past.  While customs such as carving jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, dressing up in costumes and so on have become time-honored traditions ubiquitous with the season, and many variations of monsters and ghosts have rightfully become pop-culture icons, we mustn't forget the darkly rich history of the relatively recently mainstream holiday.  The underlying purpose of Halloween is less about celebration as it is paying respect to the certainty of death, and the frighteningly unknowable thereafter.  

This eerie correlation with the the unknown and the otherworldly is, in my opinion, what really makes Halloween special.  Therefore, I've taken great care to include in this series those songs which I feel most effectively acknowledge the darker aspects of the human (or not-so-human) condition, and bring them to the forefront of a fittingly ominous atmosphere.  

Suicide - Frankie Teardrop

Suicide is quite simply a weird "band", both during their active years and within a historical context.  The were the first group to ever use the term "punk music" to advertise a show, yet they were widely detested by much of the punk scene for their provocative demeanor and reliance on keyboards, drum machines, and murmured vocals.  

This artist/audience conflict came together for several stunning moments on their 1977 self-titled debut album however, most notably on side two's minimalist epic Frankie Teardrop.  The song immediately establishes a disturbing claustrophobic atmosphere of doom with a pounding, straight eighth-note rhythm of industrial noise that drones on for its ten minute entirety.  laid over the top of this agonizingly simple beat with unnerving volume are Alan Vega's nervy, tense, half-whispered vocals.  As the metallic noise pounds on Vega weaves a tale of a young father on the brink of insanity trapped in poverty and the maddening repetition of his factory work.  Good ol' Frankie hopelessly grinds through the days to support his family, but when his desperation reaches its breaking point he is left to pick up a gun and let it provide all the "support" his family needs.  All the while the constant pounding noise continues.  The song can explode into hell at any moment, but the real terror is that you know it won't- it will just keep droning on and on.  When listened to in the right setting, you have already long been firmly on edge by the time the utterly blood curdling screams come out of nowhere. 

Acid Bath - Finger Paintings of the Insane

Much earlier in this blog's life I wrote with disturbed affection about Acid Bath's classic "death rock" album When the Kite String Pops.  I am excited now to have an opportunity to more deeply explore one of my favorite cuts from that album.  

In the years before and since I made that post reviewing When the Kite String Pops I haven't come up with a better description for their sound than that which must constantly play within the mind of a serial killer.  From their overbearing menace to the unrelenting brutality of their lyrics and their schizophrenic straddling of genres, Acid Bath creates a musical environment that is directly engaging in it's heaviness yet consistently unnerving in its twists and turns, and it has a way of getting you lost in the fractured mind of the deeply disturbed.

At no point in the album are these qualities on more troubling display than during Finger Paintings of the Insane.  As vocalist Dax Riggs alternates between morbidly dark crooning and agonized verbal assaults of self-destruction, torture and pure evil, the band weaves a spellbinding web of shifting dynamics and jarring tempo changes, bookended by skull-crushing rhythms and guitars that grind and slash their way through the nightmare.  As a listener you are left disoriented; scared and lost in the mind of a psychopath, yet morbidly fascinated and unable to take yourself away from the hellish, unforgiving sonic landscape.

The Beatles - Revolution 9  

Possibly the one song that I would call the creepiest comes from an unlikely yet ultimately unsurprising source.  More widely regarded for their mop-tops and desire to "hold your hand", The Beatles were certainly no slouches when it came to experimental recording, and the results heard in Revolution 9 are nothing short of terrifying.  

Revolution 9 begins with a minor piano theme and a mysterious voice repeating "number nine", panned jarringly between stereo channels.  For the ensuing eight minutes, it spirals deeper and deeper into pure insanity.  The piece consists entirely of various different tape loops that have been treated with odd, disquieting effects.  Most of them are taken from classical music or opera, but there are also everyday sound effects such as crowd noise, laughter, voices, breaking glass, and car horns that in this context are made harsh and grating.  The loops fade in and out, dance around each other, and, at the absolute scariest- burst unexpectedly out of nowhere on only one side of the mix (DO NOT listen to this loudly on headphones late at night).  In a move of subtle production genius, the piano and "number nine" motif recur and echo almost tauntingly in and out of the mix, confirming that the suddenly not-so-Fab Four realize exactly how uncomfortable of a listening experience they have created.  

Running List:

Sonic Youth - Death Valley '69
HorrorPops - Walk Like a Zombie
Suicide - Frankie Teardrop
Acid Bath - Finger Paintings of the Insane
The Beatles - Revolution 9

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